Virtue Information Literacy
Flourishing in an Age of Information Anarchy
Author: Wayne Bivens-Tatum
Published: July 2022
Virtue Information Literacy draws upon virtue ethics and virtue epistemology to develop a new, ethical conception of information literacy. Those of us who live in heterogenous societies with relatively free flowing information inhabit a world of Information Anarchy, anarchy not in the uninformed popular sense of chaos and disorder (although plenty of that exists), but in the philosophical and political sense of self-organized activity without dominant, hierarchical (information) authorities to which most people defer or which have the power to enforce conformity. We are deluged with information from advertising, marketing, propaganda, corporate media, alternative media, social media, film, and television. And, we are free to believe whom and what we like among the deluge and to act upon those beliefs, sometimes even to our own peril. We spontaneously organize into groups of like-minded believers, assuming that our group is right and theirs wrong. Collectively, we have no information gods or masters, not even the government that claims to rule us all. We still have information authorities that some believe everyone should defer to simply because of their position: scientists, doctors, scholars, experts, journalists, priests, churches, politicians, party leaders, governments, gods, etc. Nevertheless, mass collective agreement on information authority is almost impossible to achieve.
If this characterization of the information environment is correct, how should we choose wisely among this abundance? How do we learn to find and critically evaluate the best information for our purposes? Those are traditional questions of information literacy. This book asks in addition, what sort of person must we become to survive in such an environment? What sort of moral and intellectual character or self should we develop to flourish? To survive, even to flourish, in an era of information anarchy requires the development of radically new, critical, resistant, socially situated selves or subjectivities. These new selves develop through learning common information literacy skills, but also through cultivating a range of intellectual virtues that make these selves better able to exercise their information literacy skills. Such virtues include open-mindedness, intellectual humility, epistemic modesty, intellectual courtesy, intellectual courage, intellectual caution, intellectual thoroughness, epistemic justice, and information vigilance. They are cultivated through systematic mental discipline: Information Asceticism. This ethical approach to information literacy through the cultivation of intellectual virtues is Virtue Information Literacy.
Wayne Bivens-Tatum is the Librarian for Philosophy, Religion, and Anthropology at the Princeton University Library. He has also taught academic writing at the University of Illinois and Princeton University and courses on librarianship for the University of Illinois’ School of Information Sciences and Rutgers University’s Department of Library and Information Science. He has previously published Libraries and the Enlightenment with the Library Juice Press.